By BosNewsLife Africa Service
ABUJA, NIGERIA (BosNewsLife)-- Churches in central Nigeria have to decide whether to reopen this weekend for worship after dozens of Christians were killed since last week, prompting the military to step up security and impose a curfew, locals said.
Since November 20, Militant Fulani Muslim herdsmen along with Muslim soldiers killed at least 45 ethnic Berom Christians in Barkin Ladi, an area in the central city of Jos, the capital of Plateau state, according to Christians and officials.
"Lives have been lost, houses have been burned...The loss is enormous," said Charles Ekeocha, spokesman for the Special Task Force (STF) in Jos, capital of Plateau state, in published remarks.
Violence over allegations by Fulani Muslims of cattle theft reportedly began November 20 and eventually contributed to a massive attack on a Barkin Ladi church on November 23 that killed four Christians.
An assault the next day left 35 Christians dead in Barkin Ladi and nearby Kwok village, according to area Christian leaders.
“Christians are fleeing the town because we have no guns to fight back,” said one woman in a group of six Christians trying to leave Barkin Ladi. “Muslims have guns, and they have their soldiers fighting for them, so we have no choice but to leave town,” added the woman who was not unidentified, apparently for security reasons. .
Almost all churches in the town canceled or held reduced worship services on the first Sunday, November 27, since the violence broke after out. Nearly all area Christians have fled to Jos or have left Plateau state, long hit by ethnic property conflicts fueled by anti-Christian sentiment, according to local observers.
In March 2010 ethnic Berom Christians, who live as farmers, suffered attacks from Fulani nomads who graze their cattle on the Beroms’ land, resulting in hundreds of deaths in three villages near Jos.
The latest unrest is viewed as an unwelcome challenge for President Goodluck Jonathan, who is already dealing with near-daily attacks in the northeast by the Islamist sect Boko Haram, analysts say.
Nigeria has a roughly equal Christian-Muslim population and more than 200 ethnic groups live side by side and violence flares up in Plateau and other parts of the "Middle Belt" from time to time.
Violence in Plateau can quickly escalate into a series of tit-for-tat attacks. More than 50 people were killed inside a week in September, and hundreds died there early this year.
Some commentators have suggested that the tensions are rooted in fierce competition for local political power and control of fertile farmland, but Christians and rights groups say the conflicts are also fueled by Muslim extremism.
Christians in several states are under increased pressure as groups such as Boko Haram try to enforce Sharia, or Islamic law there, BosNewsLife monitored.